For immediate release | March 10, 2020

Public Library Association announces 2020 award winners

CHICAGO — The Public Library Association (PLA) has announced the winners of its 2020 awards and grants, honoring the best in public library service, innovation and outreach. Award and grant recipients are chosen by member volunteers who serve on PLA’s award juries. PLA President Ramiro S. Salazar, along with the award sponsors and PLA members, will recognize the award winners as part of the PLA Member Welcome Breakfast at the 2020 ALA Annual Conference this June in Chicago. Here are the winners:

The Allie Beth Martin Award, sponsored by Baker & Taylor, recognizes a public librarian for demonstrating a range and depth of knowledge about books and other library materials as well as the distinguished ability to share that knowledge. The 2020 Allie Beth Martin Award recipient is Beth Atwater, Collection Development Librarian, Johnson County Library (Overland Park, Kan.). In addition to sharing her extensive knowledge of feature films and adult fiction with community members, Atwater runs a monthly breakfast with fellow collection librarians in the Kansas City metro area to discuss issues in the field and develop joint solutions.

The Baker & Taylor Entertainment Audio Music/Video Product Award provides $2,500 in funding for audio music and video products for the circulating collection of the selected recipient. The 2020 award will go to the McCracken County Public Library of Paducah, Ky., which serves a county of approximately 65,000 residents spread across over 250 square miles. The library plans to use the award funds to build a circulating collection for its new bookmobile, which will increase outreach to library users.

The Charlie Robinson Award, sponsored by Baker & Taylor, honors a public library director who has been a risk-taker, innovator, and change agent. This year’s Charlie Robinson Award will be presented to Rivkah Sass, Library Director/CEO of the Sacramento (Calif.) Public Library. Under Sass’s leadership, the library has transformed into an award-winning institution that enjoys considerable community trust and support.

The EBSCO Excellence in Rural Library Service Award honors a public library for exemplary service to a community of 10,000 or fewer people whose top per-capita income is less than the 75 percent of the national average. This year’s $1,000 award goes to the Astor County Library located in the rural community of Astor, Fla. During the past four years, the library has hosted an annual Geek Fest and ComicCon, which helps build impactful relationships between library patrons and local businesses.

The Gordon M. Conable Award honors a public library staff member, a library trustee, or a public library that has demonstrated a commitment to intellectual freedom and the Library Bill of Rights. The 2020 award of $1,500 is presented to Jonathan Newton of Greenville, S.C. Newton upheld the decision to allow a community group to book meeting space in the library to host a drag queen story hour despite backlash from members of the public.

The John Iliff Award honors the life and accomplishments of John Iliff, early adopter and champion of technology in public libraries. This award provides a $1,000 honorarium to a library professional or library that has used technology and innovation as a tool to improve services to public library users. The 2020 John Iliff Award is presented to the Oscar Grady Public Library of Saukville, Wisc. The library created a digital media conversion lab wherein the public can convert multiple image formats into digital files, thus allowing users to preserve family photographs and film.

The New Leaders Travel Grant is designed to enhance the professional development of public librarians new to the field by making their attendance possible at critical professional development events. This year’s grant recipients are Tiffany Harkleroad, Youth Services Librarian, Butler Area (Pa.) Public Library; Katie Horner, Head of Circulation & Reference, Lake Bluff (Ill.) Public Library; and Crystal Snyder, Assistant Director/Community Engagement Librarian, Columbia (Ill.) Public Library. Each will receive a $1,500 grant to attend a PLA continuing education event.

The PLA Library Innovation Award honors a public library’s innovative or creative community service program. The 2020 award and $2,000 honorarium will go to the Mill Valley Public Library in Mill Valley, Calif. for its Poetry Illuminated project. Through this program, the library beamed poetry onto sidewalk squares in downtown Mill Valley as well as outside the library’s front entrance, making the art form more accessible and sparking impromptu conversations among city residents.

The Romance Writers of America Library Grant is designed to provide a public library the opportunity to build or expand its romance fiction collection and/or host romance fiction programming. The 2020 recipient, Ferguson (Mo.) Municipal Public Library, intends to use the $4,500 grant to update its romance collection by adding books featuring diverse protagonists like people of color and LGBTQ individuals, along with titles in languages other than English.

Launched in 2018, The Singer Group Helping Communities Come Together Award recognizes a public library’s ability to identify community needs specifically in times of crisis and division, and respond in creative and exemplary ways. The 2020 recipient of this $1,000 award is the Flint (Mich.) Public Library. In 2019, the library undertook a successful bond campaign which will provide for a totally renovated space for its users. The library has worked tirelessly to keep its doors open and provide needed services to community members experiencing recent financial and water crises.

PLA deeply appreciates the generous financial support of the companies that sponsor its awards, many of which have graciously committed to do so for many consecutive years. Our 2020 award sponsors include Baker & Taylor, EBSCO Information Services, Romance Writers of America and The Singer Group. Thanks also to the PLA Board of Directors, which sponsors the Gordon M. Conable, John Iliff, and PLA Library Innovation Awards as well as the New Leaders Travel Grants.

For more information on PLA Awards, visit or contact the PLA office at (800) 545-2433, ext. 5PLA.

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About the Public Library Association

The Public Library Association (PLA) is the largest association dedicated to supporting the unique and evolving needs of public library professionals. Founded in 1944, PLA serves nearly 10,000 members in public libraries large and small in communities across the United States and Canada, with a growing presence around the world. PLA strives to help its members shape the essential institution of public libraries by serving as an indispensable ally for public library leaders. For more information about PLA, contact the PLA office at 1 (800) 545-2433, ext.5PLA, or


Scott Allen

Deputy Director

American Library Association

Public Library Association